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Telegraph’s open letter to Michael Gove and Vince Cable on numeracy (presented with arithmetic errors)

The Telegraph have printed an open letter to Michael Gove and Vince Cable summarising its six month numeracy campaign, Make Britain Count. This says that the campaign has “highlighted the crisis we face as a nation in maths education” and call on the Secretaries of State to commit resources, adjust policy and campaign to address the issue.

A wide range of experts and concerned organisations working in education, training and industry have lined up to add their voices to our central contention that underperformance in maths up to 16, and avoidance of it thereafter, have left us with a critical skills gap when it comes to filling the job vacancies that exist right now for the numerate.

The letter gives eight points that the Telegraph feels need to be addressed and promises to return to the issue at the start of the new school year.

Incredibly, the article is presented with a photograph of a blackboard showing incorrect calculations of the four times table1. $10 \times 4 = 38$, does it? Perhaps that only serves to highlight the problem further.

Screenshot of Telegraph webpage showing arithmetic errors on blackboard

Screenshot of Telegraph webpage showing arithmetic errors on blackboard

Source: Make Britain Count: Solve our maths problem, Michael Gove.

  1. from $8 \times 4$ onwards. The error, which occurs twice, seems to involve adding $4$ to $28$ and $38$ to get $30$ and $40$, respectively, although the move from $8$ to $12$ is done correctly. []

4 Responses to “Telegraph’s open letter to Michael Gove and Vince Cable on numeracy (presented with arithmetic errors)”

  1. Avatar Peter Rowlett

    On Twitter over the weekend, @PatParslow suggested that this error might be deliberate. I suppose (my, rather that Pat’s, elaboration, so I may be misinterpreting his comment) that the point is made in the article about the number of primary school teachers who are sufficiently qualified in mathematics so perhaps we are to think that the teacher in the picture has missed the error (and this is indicative of that problem). I feel that this is quite subtle. There are several other points made in the article so I feel like if this were the point of the photo then its caption might refer to this problem by mentioning items 2 and 3 in their manifesto (increasing the number of maths graduates teaching maths in primary schools and increasing professional development provision for all primary school teachers).

    I am leaning, therefore, towards continuing to consider this an unintentional error but I am a little concerned this blog post may have missed the point. What do you think?

    • Avatar Singing Hedgehog

      Peter, I would agree that if the picture was deliberately erroneous then more mention of teaching standards and an oblique reference to the image would be expected. I am also intrigued as to where the end of the teacher’s finger is!

  2. Avatar Alistair Bird

    I’m inclined to give the Telegraph the benefit of the doubt this time (their science coverage often leaves much to be desired).

    The stock photo doesn’t appear in their print edition of the article, which suggests it was chosen by a web editor, not someone writing the article.

    If you track down the photo on ALAMY, you can see a later photo from the same series where the teacher has started marking the four times table, but hasn’t yet made it to the incorrect entries.

    The Telegraph clearly has its heart in the right place with the campaign, the highlight of which has been Matt Parker’s excellent pedagogical series of problems. If the ‘mathematics up to 18’ (or ‘mathematics for non-mathematicians’) syllabus resembles Tim Gowers’ vision, then I’m fully behind the campaign.


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